Three. Hundred. Kilometres.
You're asking yourself, can I do it? Everyone who's done the Challenge has asked themselves the same question.
The answer is you can! But you need to put in hard work up front. Here is some hopefully useful guidance as to how.
It's all about strength, endurance and recovery. We don't go at a fast pace on the Challenge, but we are constantly moving covering big distances and often lifting heavy weights, then building camp everyday. If you cannot recover you will slowly succumb to fatigue, increasingly having to dig deep to perform basic tasks. More importantly, fatigue impacts your decision making and good decision making is vital in the wilderness. If you're fit and strong, you exert less and therefore don't need to recover so much.
The areas of strength to focus on are good overall core, shoulders, back and legs. The first three power your canoe along, the last two do all the lifting and the legs alone are what gets you and your rucksack over the hills and the finish the line.
So we're looking for good all round conditioning but you're going to have to do exercises you don't like to achieve that. Love those squats. Enjoy those lunges. Dig those planks. Once you've got that going, start adding weight and progressively build up. Don't bulk up though - we want lean muscle, no need to carry extra weight!
Now add in the recovery bit: to be able to recover quickly requires a high level of fitness, focused heavily on interval training and we especially recommend - but only once you are fit enough and ready to do it - High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
HIIT follows a very simple principle - by doing difficult exercises in a short timeframe with very small intervals to recover from in-between, you shock the body and develop strength and fitness in a short timeframe. It really is quite a shock to the system to begin with but soon becomes addictive. It works best when combined with other types of training in your routine, such as cardio/endurance training - lower intensity training building the ability to keep going for long periods.
So your goal is to build yourself up to a routine that includes a mix of cardio, strength, endurance and HIIT. Sound good? If you're starting from scratch - don't panic! Let's say you're a year away from the Challenge. Just follow this:
Mon - circuit training (1 hour interval training)
Weds - weight training (1 hour circuit)
Fri - Swimming (target 30 mins non-stop swimming with a 1km goal, swimming is important for safety on the Challenge plus it's great shoulder training for paddling); run, cycle or spin if you prefer at moderate distances.
If this is completely new for you, about some point in the first few weeks you'll be in agony, wondering if you'll ever be able to manage this. Just keep going (and keep stretching in-between) and your body will adapt.
You can interchange swimming with rowing, which is excellent or running if that works for you. 5km in 30 mins is a good start point for rowing - you should be able to manage that comfortably and from there move to under 25 mins and finally target under 20 mins (hard). Same goes for running - 5km in 30 mins is a good fitness start point to aim for. When comfortable start combining it, so that you are building your endurance to doing a sort of mini-triathlon (alternatively do smaller distances - e.g. 2.5km row, 2.5km run and build up). Rest for 15 mins in-between each one if doing that.
Once in a while, do a long walk - 10-15km - over some hills carrying moderate weight - 10-15kg, no more, just get used to walking with weight and in boots.
That's it. Once you get comfortable with that you can start pushing yourself. For those of you already there here's the type of routine we do in the 6 months prior to the Challenge:
here's an example of how Les Mills - who take a very scientific approach - advise maintains a good overall level of fitness and strength:
Mon - rest
Tues - flexibility
Weds - cardio
Thurs - strength
Fri - HIIT
Sat - rest
Sun - HIIT
To push for an event they advise adding another cardio session to the above. It's crucial to balance HIIT training with milder more prolonged activity, get it right and the difference it makes is staggering. Too much HIIT you'll plateau, disrupt sleep and get injured, too much cardio and you won't build the recovery and strength you need.
Steve's example routine (David Lloyd)
Sunday morning - Les Mills Grit Strength
Monday evening - Bodybalance
Tuesday evening - 55 min group cycle
Wednesday evening - 45 min group cycle
Thursday evening - Bodypump (strength)
Friday morning - Les Mills Grit Strength HIIT circuit
Saturday - rest
Mix and match. Remember to allow your body to recover. Whatever works for you.
Again, once every couple of months or so we get out with weight on our backs, 24kg over hilly terrain, just to benchmark ourselves get our feet used to our boots and shoulders used to the weight. If you are doing the above routine or similar, you really don't need to spend that much time walking or rowing, you'd be amazed at how your strength and fitness improves over the period.
There are numerous other ways of achieving the same goal, from exercises that can be done in your own home to gym classes with very innovative routines that genuinely achieve results quickly. Les Mills Grit Strength is particularly well-suited to that, available online and requiring just a mat, bar and weight plate.
Be wary of doing too much HIIT though - 30-40mins total time in the red zone of your heart rate per week is enough. Don't over-do it, the less intensive stuff is important too, as is actually resting. A recent scientific study has shown you should be two sleep cycles between sessions like Les Mills Grit Strength. You can mix it up in-between sessions to whatever suits - your muscles will take time to recover quickly at first and then you can push yourself more. Understanding your body is key and team physio, Tyrone Cassius of Specifeye Health, provides guidance on when we need to ease off or when we should push ourselves.
Those on the team that have used personal trainers have achieved great results too, but if you can't afford one then classes are a good trade-off if you find that more motivating than training on your own.
This year, Charlie is trying a strength routine that uses your own bodyweight for all exercises, which will be the subject of another blog article!
There is one last piece of the puzzle though: you and what's (taps head) up here. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is the purpose of the first fitness gate - not to fail anyone, but to push you, so you know where you need to get to and why, so that we're all ready to do the Challenge together.
300km? You can do this. 100% commitment and you will be there.
How to bring your family, friends and partners on your journey
So, you like the idea of doing the 3N Challenge but you're asking yourself, "How can I spend that much time away from my family/partner?"
The answer is simple: bring them along!
What's that? There's no way on earth they'd want to do this? Fear not - they don't have to do the Challenge, but there are lots of options to join you where we train and before or after the Challenge itself.
3NC team members and their significant others have spent long weekends doing everything from walking up Mt. Snowdon to the fastest zipwire in the world in Snowdonia (Betws Y Coed, Lake Bala & Llangollen), the historic sites and nature reserves around Anglesey, experienced the natural beauty of the Forest of Dean and the Brecon Beacons in Herefordshire & South Wales (not to mention experiencing the benefits of being in darkest Cider country) and enjoyed the rustic pubs and plethora of history in the Kent and Sussex Weald, not to mention Dartmoor National Park and the coastal path of the South-West.
Then there's those who've added longer trips, with the opportunity to experience the outdoors Finnish or Canadian style, from wilderness resorts to taking a break in the luxury of a lakeland summer cottage surrounded by forest (you get the added bonus of wood-fired Saunas in Finland - sorry Canada, your canoes may be superior but you guys need to get with the program on that one).
On route to the 3NC locations there's potential for city breaks in London, Warwick, Chester, Caernarfon, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton (to name just a few) and further afield there's Helsinki, Savonlinna, Toronto and Ottawa to consider.
So, we can't change the fact that joining the 3NC expedition team for the trek is going to take up a lot of your time, but just know that there are plenty of ways you can share the adventure and that you are welcome to do so!
Francis shares his experience training for 3NC Ontario 2018 ...
“If lucky, we are blessed with 80 summers. There are not very many opportunities, then, to experience the wonders of the boreal forest …”
Ray Mears /Lars Falt – Out On The Land
"80 summers"? What will you do with yours?
If you are considering coming on the next Challenge, do not hesitate, do it - It will change your life:
This Challenge which Steve has done so much to organise has been incredible, I have been fit before but after a raft of injuries caused by running I had let my fitness slide. In the last 8 months I have lost 20 pounds in weight, learned a load of new skills, learned to see nature in a new way and, most importantly, am beginning to understand teamwork.
I have never been a sports person so maybe this is familiar to other people but being part of a team was not something I was familiar with. I am naturally somewhat competitive, not in an aggressive way, but in an anxious, must succeed kind of way. There have been several experiences in the run up to Temagami that have taught me a lot about people, and teamwork, and trust. None of us are superheroes, you will have moments when you feel good and are able to help others and moments where you are off and will need help. This is just how it is and must be accepted. During the periods where I have needed help I have found that people have been non-judgemental and supportive. I can think of a couple of good examples from our training so far to illustrate this:
1. Fundamental Bushcraft (Woodlore): Charles and I spent a week on this amazing course and it changed the way I look at nature, which I used to walk past, now I spend ages identifying trees and thinking about what shapes the landscape. Learning from Ray Mears and his team just how much effort it takes to look after yourself outdoors is a real eye opener. I wouldn’t say this was a physically challenging course, but it is an eye opener, it’s the little things that will get you, keeping clean, finding water, being efficient. The course progressively builds up, moving you from camp to bivouac, making you work with a small group to purify water, set up shelter, cook and look after yourself outdoors. Sounds easy but when you are tired and dehydrated and you can’t remember how to tie a knot and you can’t light your fire it is very frustrating, particularly if you are a little hard on yourself. Step in Charles, helping me to get the fire going, tie that knot on my tarp and giving me a drink – all done totally without judgement, may not sound like much but very important … relying on each other in good and challenging times, realising that people who you don’t yet really know can be there for you and learning to accept help have been, for me, hugely important.
2. Canoe training – Ray Goodwin, our fantastic canoe coach, will take you from nothing to feeling confident in a canoe in a couple of weekends. Learning how to canoe has for me probably been the best part of this course, silently gliding down a river in Finland is a magical experience; that said, dragging a canoe through a shallow river when you can’t see your feet, or canoeing an extra 2k when you have taken a wrong turn in 30 degree heat is another thing altogether …
Anyway, having great fun with the guys practising rescues on a beautiful sunny day in Wales, taking it in turns to 'swim' downriver and then the team throw you a line and pull you out. I am confident doing this, I am probably physically the strongest person on the course, this will be easy … I throw Charles the rope, it’s a good throw, he catches it, I promptly get pulled off my feet, almost knock Steve into the river, just have the presence of mind to let go of the rope, meaning Charles will be off down the rapids … Steve manages to get hold of me, Matt jumps up from nowhere, grabs the rope, somehow manages to keep his footing and Charles is hauled out. Laughs, jokes, lessons learned, no judgement, no guilt or fear. I had a bad moment, Matt was there with a good one, maybe I’ll have a good one later, it doesn’t matter, we are a team, you can’t do this alone …
The training over the last 8 months has given me a focus, 44 years old, 5 feet 9, 13 stone 2lbs at the start, I’m reasonably fit, body mass index too high but fairly normal … run a couple of times a week, eat too many takeaways. Then I get a text from Steve (the only person I knew from the team prior to signing up) “mate do you fancy coming on a 300km canoe trek in the middle of nowhere”... “hell yes, where do I sign?” Nothing like a bit of focus to get you going – row, run swim, circuit training, weights, row some more, push … hard - 2 canoe training courses, 2 canoe trips, a week of bushcraft training, 2 fitness gates, a weekend of practice in the Boreal forest (which I had no idea existed) in Finland, a first aid course... Oh look, I’ve lost 20 pounds, bmi normal, feeling good … spend a ton of money on equipment I will use for years to come. This Challenge has changed my life, met some great people, learned about myself, learned a load of new skills, got fit, have a new interest, will be hosting training for others next year … I’ve even met people just from talking about the Challenge and signed up a couple of people who will hopefully come next year, it certainly gives you something to talk about, it is interesting, it’s living life.
Oh, and did I say, we haven’t even started yet, one week today, we will start our canoe phase, very excited, not frightened, we have done the prep, we are a team and we will help each other, bring it on!
The trip is for me the pinnacle, but the journey there has been amazing. Want to come? You can, you definitely can… you have to commit to the training, you have to want to do it, the fitness gates will challenge you, you will have to learn new skills. The main ingredient though is commitment, want to do it and you will be with us. See you in Lapland 2019!